Open Container Law

Open container laws are defined as laws that limit or prohibit the possession of open containers of alcohol in public areas or in terms of driving. The purpose of these laws is to restrict public intoxication, especially the dangerous act of driving a vehicle while intoxicated. Open container laws are state laws, rather than federal laws and they vary from state to state.

Open containers laws serve a number of goals such as:

  • Maintain the quality-of-life for community residents by preventing people from being drunk in public, preventing rowdy behavior;
  • Prevent motor vehicle accidents outlawing the use of alcohol by drivers or passengers;
  • Maintain federal highway construction fund subsidies for states.

Open containers in public.

Depending on your jurisdiction, open container laws might apply in any of these places:

  • Public sidewalks
  • Public parks;
  • Common areas of hotels or apartment buildings
  • Residential neighborhoods
  • Mobile homes
  • School or government property
  • Parking lots

Generally, if the property is owned by a local or state government, or shared by the general community, it is safe to assume that open container laws apply, and public consumption of alcohol should be avoided.

Open container restrictions are not always rigorously enforced, and open containers may in fact be legally permitted in nominally private events which are open to the public. A few notable areas, like Las Vegas or New Orleans, do not prohibit open containers in public, although the containers must be plastic.

Seven states, including Mississippi and Virginia, don’t have open container laws. This generally makes drinking in public legal in these states.

Open containers in vehicles.

All states except Mississippi have specific open container laws for these settings, and violations are divided into two categories: an open container on the driver’s person or one just in the vehicle. Both infractions usually share these criteria:

  • The vehicle was operating on a public road.
  • The container contained alcohol when it was identified by the officer.
  • The container’s seal was broken, or some of the alcohol had been removed.

In order to demonstrate a violation of open container laws, the state must prove the following:

  1. There was an open container of an alcoholic beverage.
  2. The defendant possessed the open container, as opposed to someone else in the vehicle.
  3. The container was in a vehicle.

Most legal matters can become complex and stressful. If you’ve been arrested for an alcohol-related crime, a qualified open container violations attorney can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Anyway, if the open container ticket was written in error or the violation led to more serious charges, it’s generally wise to consult an attorney as soon as possible.

Thomas Elliott

Education: Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, New York. Pace University, White Plains, New York.
Professional Associations and Memberships: American Bar Association, New York State Bar, The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Brooklyn Bar Association, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

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